Almost all of my adult life has been engaged with thinking about objects: as an archaeologist, museum education officer, maker and now creative consultant working with craft practitioners. Wondering who made them and why, how they were used, what they say about people or the society they lived in. Contemplating how the materials used tell us about where people lived, the environments they found themselves in, how certain materials hold added value or show status. Objects are fascinating receptacles of thoughts and ideas, hopes and aspirations, they can show our true selves to the world. More recently, as my focus shifted from historical objects to contemporary ones, I revelled in the fact that you can ask the maker all the questions you like. Things which we may have to guess at for old objects we can learn easily now. The object is knowable in so many new ways and that is hugely exciting. I love to hear about how objects are made, where the inspiration comes from, how they came into being. These two approaches, historical and contemporary, are two sides of the same coin.
And this is all wonderful stuff. I never tire of pondering and imagining, of asking and listening. But I also think that this can be a somewhat limited view of objects. When we see them as representative of how people lived in the past, or as manifestations of a person’s creative impulses, we are seeing them as somewhat inactive presences in the lives of humans. Always in relation to something else, usually people. But, I also believe that they hold their own unique qualities that don’t necessarily have anything to do with how or why they were made, or the people that made them and used them. These qualities relate to how they make me feel, or the associations they bring for me. It can be aesthetic or emotional. It goes beyond them being merely pleasing to look at, and taps into deeper experiences or memories.
I like to talk about this side of objects. About how they make us feel, what images come to mind, what remembrances. It’s something we encouraged visitors to do in the museum, as a way to foster connections between the, sometimes, otherness of objects and our ordinary lives. Something I’m particularly drawn to, is the possibility for objects to be inspiration for other art work, not just responding to their aesthetic or formal qualities, but the emotional response. I’d love to see more poetry written about pots, paintings inspired by blown glass, photography exploring jewellery. Mostly I’d love to see more people who work with or create objects talk about them in a sensory and emotive way. I’d like to hear beyond the usual materials and techniques, beyond processes and finishes. Beyond, even, the conceptual underpinnings of the work. I’d love to hear how looking at an object makes people feel. How handling it or using it alters them slightly. I’d love to hear about the myriad thoughts that spin off from that object like dominoes out into space. These personal experiences of objects are things no archaeologist can uncover, they are often unvoiced, even now. Ever curious, I would like to know more.
I trace the line of squared silver
around the perimeter of this structure,
aubergine enamel overhangs overlaps
the dry worn green below,
textural planes like walls
and windows and I am picturing it
emerging like an architect’s model
for an abstract modernist building,
from this angle the construction is framed
by an aperture, captured by a frame
and held for a moment, complete.
Written in response to jewellery pieces by Anya Miles.